Drug addiction, specifically to opioids, has increased dramatically in the last decade. Virginia alone has seen a 500% increase in drug-related deaths over the last seven years. In fact, hundreds of people find themselves incarcerated at Chesterfield County Jail as a result of addiction.
The staff and administration there recognize that addiction is a disease and not a crime, so they created the “Helping Addicts Recover Progressively” (HARP) program in 2016. They’ve had great success evidenced by a significant reduction in recidivism. Some inmates have even asked to continue their participation in the program after their release.
At Project Yoga Richmond we believe in the power of yoga as a public health tool. So we seized the unique opportunity to offer classes under the HARP program. Since 2017, PYR Ambassador Billie Carroll has led a weekly Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) class at Chesterfield County Jail. Y12SR is a relapse prevention program developed by Nikki Myers that combines a 12-step discussion meeting with an intentional yoga therapeutic practice for those with addictions or affected by the addictions of others.
Elysha Kim, Program Coordinator at the jail, explains how yoga fits naturally into the HARP program, “The physical body and mental health are tied so closely. Yoga is one of the few programs we offer that combines both.” Elysha suspects that the vast majority of those incarcerated at Chesterfield are facing drug-related charges.
“When we come to class it’s like a relief,” reflects Regina, a Y12SR participant. “We can talk about recovery, get peace and meditate. We feel better all weekend because we do yoga on Fridays. We leave…ourselves.”
As a yogi who has been in recovery for 17 years, Billie appreciates the opportunity to serve the community in this way.
“She relates to us as an addict,” explains Joy, another student. “Our issues are in our tissues. That’s what Billie always says. We don’t realize how much our stress and trauma remains in our bodies. The way she taught us to process that has been amazing.”
Students apply the therapeutic yoga techniques they learn in PYR’s Y12SR program to their lives outside of the community room where they meet. “Instead of being so angry all the time we learn how to think differently. How to act differently,” says Nari, whose first experience with yoga was in jail. “You can take on so much more after class.”
Ron, a student in the men’s class, says he uses a breathing technique called 4/3/7 (inhale for four counts, hold it for three, exhale for seven) to help him fall asleep. The women apply soothing techniques they learned in class, such as a butterfly hug and tapping methods, to calm down when they feel anxious.
Recently, a few of PYR’s male students began an inmate-led book club to deepen their practice. PYR donated copies of Meditations on the Mat by Rolf Gates and the men study it together on their own. “That was the biggest compliment to me,” says Billie. The participants’ enthusiasm for the program was evident in their willingness to share their experience when offered the opportunity.
When asked to reflect on his teacher, Dominic, a participant in the men’s class, says, “She pays attention to what we have to say.” He pauses, “I think she gets a lot out of it too.”
Dominic is right. Billie’s relationship with her students is symbiotic, reciprocal, spiritual and transcends the walls of the jail to include all of us at PYR. You support your programs like Y12SR each time you contribute for your studio class or make a donation. Your practice is their practice. We are all Project Yoga Richmond.
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Meet our May Volunteer of the Month, Carolyn Henao!
Here is a quick interview with Carolyn:
“I love Project Yoga Richmond because it is so inclusive and creates a strong sense of community.
At every class, there is such a strong mix of different types of people, both men and women of all different backgrounds, that come together in order to practice yoga and meditation.
PYR offers not only a clean and beautiful physical environment for our practice, but also amazing and welcoming energy from all of the teachers, employees, and volunteers I have met.
My favorite yoga pose is One-Legged King Pigeon or “Eka Pada Rajakapotasana.” This is my favorite because when you grab the foot from overhead and lean back it offers such a nice backbend/heart opener and it also stretches the legs and opens the hips. Opening the hips and the heart releases stagnant emotions and helps with physical as well as emotional flexibility! :)”
We are so grateful to have Carolyn as a part of our PYR family!
Be sure to give her a big thank you next time you see her at PYR class or event!
Have you met Jenny? She’s one of our MVP Volunteers at the studio. Catch her Sunday mornings volunteering for Bhakti Flow!
When did you start volunteering with PYR?
Early last year, my boyfriend and I made a major life change. We quit our jobs in DC, sold our things, traveled, and eventually decided to make Richmond our new home. It was an uprooted time to say the least! I began volunteering at PYR in June and immediately felt like I had found a welcoming community and place to grow my roots in Richmond.
What is your favorite yoga class?
Bhakti Flow with Izzy every Sunday morning… sigh. This class is like my weekly reset button. Not only does my body feel rejuvenated, but I leave with some nugget or an intention to carry with me into the rest of the week.
Favorite hobby (other than yoga)?
I love to write! My major in college was creative writing with a concentration in poetry. I’m pretty casual about it these days, but I do push myself to read at open mic nights throughout the city on occasion. It’s so inspiring to hear and share with other local writers! In the same vein, I’m also a voracious reader; you’ll find me swapping books from the Little Free Library outside of the PYR studio pretty often.
When I was young, wanted so badly to live in the rainforest and be the next Jane Goodall. I would stay inside during recess to study primate flashcards. I decorated my bedroom like the jungle, and I would even fall asleep to this CD of rainforest noises my parents brought back from Costa Rica. While I don’t think I’ll go live with the chimps anytime soon, I still consider Jane Goodall to be one of my role models in life. I love her quote: “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” That’s something I try to remind myself every day!
We Love our Volunteers!
If you are interested in volunteering with us this summer during our outdoor yoga series, sign up here!
Do you remember a time in your life when it felt hard to stop and breathe? Maybe you were experiencing a tough time at home or work. Maybe you were dealing with depression or anxiety.
Was there was someone, or something, that helped you breathe and find your way through?
For me, it was Project Yoga Richmond that helped me breathe when I was in need.
I first discovered Project Yoga Richmond when I needed support the most. I was anxious and overwhelmed before my first class with PYR, but as I entered the studio, I felt a sense of relief. From the moment I opened PYR’s door, I found so much more than a yoga class. I found a deep sense of calm during tumultuous times; I found myself; I found community.
Will you join me in supporting the PYR community?
Project Yoga Richmond provides this experience to communities across the Greater Richmond Region by providing free or low-cost yoga and mindfulness programs. I support PYR because I believe everyone deserves access to the benefits yoga provides. Benefits like improved focus and self regulation, a sense of belonging, and a reduction in stress and anxiety.
Eager to be part of the community that had been there for me when I needed it most, I deepened my support of PYR through volunteering. I have served as both a check-in assistant and volunteered with one of PYR’s community partnership programs. Welcoming students to PYR’s pay-what-you-can studio and assisting a summer yoga and mindfulness program for East End elementary school youth, I have seen the impact PYR has had on my life replicated in the lives of countless other students.
Will you join me in sharing the benefits of yoga with PYR’s students?
As a middle school English teacher in Henrico County, yoga supports my well-being so that I can better teach, but I have also passed those benefits along to my students. I have begun incorporating breath work into my classroom in order to share the stress-management and social-emotional learning skills that yoga provides. My experience as a teacher has taught me that the most important lessons we learn come from students themselves. PYR embodies this ideal wholeheartedly. I have seen first hand how PYR looks first to the needs of their community to empower the students they serve. Whether it is PYR’s programs for youth in Richmond Public Schools, working with ESOL populations in Chesterfield County, or sharing trauma-informed programs at Richmond Behavioral Health Authority, PYR continues to work with and meet each population where they are as they share the benefits of yoga. It is this focus that makes PYR’s programs so unique and impactful.
Your donation will make it possible for more people to discover the benefits of yoga.
Practicing with Project Yoga Richmond has provided me the ability to reset when I’m having a challenging moment or day. Yoga reminds me to breathe and has given me the space and perspective to not let a moment of anxiety or a simple mistake unravel all the good within and around me. PYR offers the network of support I need to share all that I have to offer.
Will you join me in offering this network of support through PYR’s programs?
Consider making a donation to Project Yoga Richmond to help someone breathe and feel supported by our community, no matter what they are facing.
Sarah Delaney, Project Yoga Richmond Student and Volunteer
Reflections on PYR Partnership with NextUp at Elkhart Thompson, Fall 2018
What I enjoy most about working with the youth at NextUp is helping them create a community for themselves. We allow them to dictate their own group agreements, their own rules on how we will all conduct ourselves in the space. Things like: kindness, respect, listening when another is speaking, be calm, have fun, and no judgment. They decide how we will relate to one another and I believe this is what helps creates a safe space for them to open up, to share, to be vulnerable.
It seems that there is a lot of competition for space to be heard and seen amongst the youth. This manifests as attacking one another with words, speaking over one another, trying to make space for themselves. (behavior not unfamiliar to how we as adults can sometimes interact). In Mindfulness on the Mat, we remind the young people of the agreements that were collectively chosen for the space. They are reminded that there is space for each of them and that the right to be in the space and feel safe belongs to each of us.
I have watched friendships bloom and grow. I have observed youth develop the ability to nourish and support one another. I have witnessed young people become a beautiful example of the healing power of community. This is why I love working with NextUp and Project Yoga Richmond, each session a child reminds me of how innately kind and mindful we are if given the space and gentle reminders of our true nature. I believe my experience of the breakout sessions is just a microcosm of the community NextUp and Project Yoga Richmond are creating for each school they collaborate with. And to me, that is truly a beautiful thing that I am proud to be a part of.
-PYR Ambassador, Syd Collier